Brooklyn Poets Poetry Festival May 25-27

Poetry Festival

Join us for the first annual Brooklyn Poets Poetry Festival from May 25 to 27 at 144 Montague Street or via Zoom, for workshops, craft talks, panels and readings!

In the mornings, Leigh Stein, Jason Koo, Lynn Melnick, Marwa Helal, Cea and Candace Williams will lead workshops devoted to writing new material, developing process or publishing work. In the afternoons, Jericho Brown, Eugenia Leigh and Edward Hirsch will lead craft labs and talks, and participants will get the chance to read their own work during open mics. Afternoon sessions will conclude with panels on journal publishing (Jordan Myers, Meghan O’Rourke, Emma Sheinbaum, Alexandra Watson); book publishing (Roberto Carlos Garcia, Joanna Fuhrman, Rachel Levitsky, Stephen Motika); and professionalizing as a writer without an MFA (Kyle Liang, Anthony Thomas Lombardi, Cindy Tran, Candace Williams). In the evenings, festival teachers and panelists will give featured readings from their work. View the full schedule and details below.

Early registration ($15 off) runs through May 14. Members take $25 off until the day of festival attendance. Guests can register for a single-day or three-day pass for in-person or virtual attendance. All guests will have access to livestream recordings of festival sessions upon request. Anyone who purchases a three-day in-person pass will also be invited to an opening reception on May 24 (5–8 PM) featuring specialty cocktails by Hardshore Distilling & food by Mad for Chicken. In-person guests will enjoy complimentary bagels & muffins for breakfast each day provided by Montague Street Bagels, as well as lunch & dinner deals at Montague Street Bagels and Mad for Chicken. Thanks to our festival sponsors!

Financial aid requests can be made through May 21. To request financial aid, please fill out the form on this page and indicate whether you’re interested in attending in person or virtually and which days. We don’t have a fellowship application this year to honor fellowship spots from a previous retreat that was cancelled due to Covid-19, but we will be open for fellowships in future years.

Note that by participating in, you agree to abide by our code of conduct and COVID-19 policy. All in-person attendees are strongly encouraged to wear masks (regardless of vaccination status) except readers at a safe distance on stage, and we will have masks available. Brooklyn Poets reserves the right to dismiss from our programs any participant found to be in violation of these policies. Thank you for respecting our community.

Closed captions will be available for the event through the Zoom livestream. For more information and to request additional accommodations, contact us.


Festival Schedule

Wednesday, May 24

5–8 PM: Opening reception for faculty, panelists and 3-day pass holders, featuring specialty cocktails by Hardshore Distilling & food by Mad for Chicken


Thursday, May 25

8:30–9 AM: Coffee, tea, bagels & muffins courtesy of Montague Street Bagels

9–10:30 AM: Workshop: “Exploding the ‘Poetic’” / Jason Koo

This workshop is for everyone who’s been told they can’t swear or use a certain kind of language in a poem because it’s not appropriate, lyrical enough or “poetic.” We’ll attempt to explode any predetermined notions of the “poetic” and write with a more robust, wide-ranging diction that uses the whole keyboard of the English language, from formal, sophisticated phrasing to f-bombs. We’ll look at poems by poets who have opened up this keyboard for inspiration, such as Etheridge Knight, Wanda Coleman, Justin Chin, Cornelius Eady, John Murillo and Patricia Smith.

10:45–12:15 PM: Workshop: “How to Get a Book Deal the Easy Way ” / Leigh Stein

Life is too short to submit your poetry collection to university press contests. Today, it is easier to sell a poetry collection to a mainstream publisher than it is to sell a short story collection. In this workshop, poet and book-development expert Leigh Stein will demystify the book publishing industry and explain the process of selling a poetry collection to a publisher, from coming up with a strong concept, to finding comp titles, to building a platform online, to querying literary agents. Whether you’ve only written a handful of poems, or you have a complete manuscript you’ve been polishing for months, by the end of this workshop, you’ll be able to pitch your own work in a succinct, compelling way.

12:15–1:15 PM: Lunch Break

1:15–2:45 PM: Craft Lab: “The Duplex” / Jericho Brown

In this craft lab, poet and educator Jericho Brown will lead us through the writing of a duplex poem—a form he invented that blends the ghazal, the sonnet and the blues, which is featured in his Pulitzer Prize–winning collection The Tradition

Participants should bring 14 lines of their own poetry to the lab, from nine to eleven syllables per line. The lines might be from sentences taken from your own prose or lines from poems that haven’t worked. No two lines have to be from the same source or time period, but they can be. Don’t bring whole poems; just bring disparate lines. It may be a good idea if some of them have images, but it’s not required.  Participants should come to the lab with each line on its own small sliver of paper; that means come to class with 14 slivers of paper and a line on each sliver.

3–4 PM: Open Mic

4:15–5:45 PM: Panel and Q&A: “Journal Publishing, Editing and Submissions” / Jordan Myers (Curlew), Meghan O’Rourke (the Yale Review), Emma Sheinbaum (A Velvet Giant) and Alexandra Watson (Apogee)

Is there a secret to a successful journal submission? What journals will best serve as your work’s literary home? This panel will offer insight into the curatorial visions of four literary journals: Apogee, Curlew, A Velvet Giant and the Yale Review. Editors representing each journal will discuss their approach to decision-making: who they hope to publish, what type of work they are looking for, and how they curate a wide range of submissions into a cohesive, compelling issue. The panelists will also discuss submission policies and their journal’s unique impact on the literary landscape.

5:45–7:15 PM: Dinner Break

7:15–8:45 PM: Readings by Jordan Myers, Meghan O’Rourke, Emma Sheinbaum, Alexandra Watson, Kyle Liang, Leigh Stein and Jericho Brown


Friday, May 26

8:30–9 AM: Coffee, tea, bagels & muffins courtesy of Montague Street Bagels

9–10:30 AM: Workshop: “Write to Write!” / Lynn Melnick

Finding or creating time to write can be overwhelming and challenging in a world that honors busyness. In this workshop, we’ll explore how to develop a poetry practice that depends not on a muse or a particular set-up but exists as an essential part of your everyday. After all, the only way to write is to write! Sure, it may not sound very sexy, but what is sexy is a completed manuscript! During our time together, we’ll generate new writing using multiple prompts, tackle approaches to revision and overcome our fear of the blank page.

10:45–12:15 PM: Workshop: “Poetics of I-mage” / Marwa Helal

M. NourbeSe Philip writes, “The word ‘image’ is used to convey what can only be described as the irreducible essence—the i-mage—of creative writing; it can be likened to the DNA molecules at the heart of all life….In [the] attempt to translate the i-mage into meaning and non-meaning, the writer has access to a variety of verbal techniques and methods—comparison, simile, metaphor, metonymy, symbol, rhyme, allegory, fable, myth—all of which aid her in this process. Whatever the technique or form, the function remains the same—that of enabling the artist to translate the i-mage into meaningful language for her audience.” This workshop will explore each of the verbal techniques and methods Philip cites as students create original work focusing on the i-mage. We’ll experiment with erasures, blackout poems, typography, design, palimpsests, absence, and concrete poems, and work with art work, artifacts and translations as source texts. We’ll look at work by Diana Khoi Ngyuen, Keith Wilson and Robert Montgomery as mentor texts.

12:15–1:15 PM: Lunch Break

1:15–2:45 PM: Craft Talk and Q&A: “The Art of Trauma” / Eugenia Leigh

How are contemporary poets engaging with trauma in their poetry? How is this engagement different from confessionalism both in spirit and in practice? How can we write about trauma without reenacting it and instead use craft to write toward a “poetics of justice”? More specifically, how can we use trauma as a tool—as an act of resistance and as an act of community care? This craft talk doesn’t promise easy answers, but we’ll work together to arrive at conclusions that will move us toward a deeper understanding of the role of trauma in our poems.

3–4 PM: Open Mic

4:15–5:45 PM: Panel and Q&A: “Book Publishing, Editing and Submissions” / Roberto Carlos Garcia (Get Fresh Books), Joanna Fuhrman (Hanging Loose Press), Rachel Levitsky (belladonna*) and Stephen Motika (Nightboat Books) 

Your book is written and ready to be shared with the world: where do you go from there, and how do you build momentum? This panel will center around the submission policies and editing practices of four local presses: Get Fresh Books, Hanging Loose Press, the Belladonna* Collaborative, and Nightboat Books. Representatives from each press will discuss their decision-making regarding who and what to publish, best practices for submitting work, and the challenges they face in selecting work. The panelists will also discuss what drew them to the publishing world and what compels them about their editorial work.

5:45–7:15 PM: Dinner Break

7:15–8:45 PM: Readings by Roberto Carlos Garcia, Joanna Fuhrman, Rachel Levitsky, Stephen Motika, Lynn Melnick, Marwa Helal and Eugenia Leigh


Saturday, May 27

8:30–9 AM: Coffee, tea, bagels & muffins courtesy of Montague Street Bagels

9–10:30 AM: Workshop: “And You Were Full of Joy” / Cea

An infamous Jenny Holzer truism reads, “IN A DREAM YOU SAW A WAY TO SURVIVE AND YOU WERE FULL OF JOY.” In this generative workshop, we will consider poetry as more than just a means of expression, but as a powerful catalyst for social change. We will read poetry that imagines new possible worlds and work to envision our own beautiful futures on the page—futures where survival and joy are inseparable and the dream becomes the real.

10:45–12:15 PM: Workshop: “Empire State of Mind” / Candace Williams

In this workshop, we will try to write poems that are as vibrant, complex and chaotic as the city that never sleeps. Students will explore how New York City has shaped them as people and as artists and tap into the techniques that poets use to acknowledge, communicate and complicate their relationship to the city. Poems by Morgan Parker, Frank O’Hara, Claude McKay and Jason Koo will serve as mentor texts.

12:15–1:15 PM: Lunch Break

1:15–2:45 PM: Craft Talk and Q&A: “The Heart of American Poetry” / Edward Hirsch

What is the poetry of democracy? How has our conception of American poetry changed over time? We will reconsider the American project and our contribution to world poetry as we look at a range of poems anthologized in Hirsch’s recent book The Heart of American Poetry. From Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley to Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson and Emma Lazarus to William Carlos Williams and Langston Hughes, we will explore the diverse multiplicities of American poetic expression. Other poets we will consider include Sterling Brown, Hart Crane, Marianne Moore, Julia de Burgos, Philip Levine, Lucille Clifton, Garrett Hongo and Joy Harjo.

3–4 PM: Open Mic

4:15–5:45 PM: Panel and Q&A: “Professionalizing as a writer without an MFA” / Kyle Liang, Anthony Thomas Lombardi, Cindy Tran and Candace Williams 

The path to becoming a professional writer outside of academia might seem elusive or daunting; these panelists have proven that it doesn’t have to be. This panel will offer insight into how you  can achieve success as a writer without an MFA. Four Brooklyn Poets teachers, all of whom first participated in Brooklyn Poets programs as students, will talk about their journeys from student to teacher and their pathways to publication and other kinds of professional success. The panelists will discuss the non-academic writing communities that have been essential in supporting their professional and artistic growth, offer advice on what career-building strategies worked for them, and reflect on any challenges they faced along the way.

5:45–7:15 PM: Dinner Break

7:15–8:45 PM: Readings by Anthony Thomas Lombardi, Cindy Tran, Jason Koo, Cea, Candace Williams and Edward Hirsch